America’s Opioid Epidemic has an Invisible Side And it Could be Lurking in Your Company

Addiction doesn’t just impact the individual using. Imagine you’re the parent of a child struggling with addiction. You may have had to face some of the most emotionally draining and disruptive events of your life, such as finding out that your child has stolen money from you or bailing your child out of jail and trying to convince him or her to enter a treatment facility.  Perhaps your child has even suffered an overdose. You may have been doing everything right and your child still fell victim to this disease.

For every individual who suffers from addiction, an entire family is affected, often silently. The parents, siblings, and loved ones of people with addiction are all profoundly impacted by the individual’s drug use.

29% of employers report having employees who are dealing with a family member’s addiction problems. (source)

Beyond treatment options, addiction can create a ripple effect of employee needs, including family counseling, financial and legal concerns. Employees who are dealing with this at home may exhibit some of the classic signs of those who are themselves dependent, such as sick days, missing deadlines and loss of motivation.

How big is the opioid problem?

Opioid use has risen to epidemic proportions in the U.S., affecting all 50 states and cutting across economic and demographic segments. Opioids are powerful drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. With continued use, they can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. What begins as use of prescription pain medication can transition into addiction and use of illicit drugs such as heroin.

1991: 76 million opioid prescriptions were written. (source)

2012: 259 million opioid prescriptions were written. That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of the painkillers. (source)

2015: 27.1 million people aged 12 or older reported using an illicit drug in the past 30 days. This corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans.  (source)

Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose.” (source)


What can you do today to help?

The face of addiction has changed. Opioid addiction can impact anyone of any demographic at any time.The stigma surrounding addiction means it can stay hidden from even the closest friends and colleagues. You may not know you have employees who are struggling with the effects of addiction in their home life.

Here are some proactive things your organization can do:

  • Offer drug free workplace education and training for employees and supervisors.
  • Monitor your EAP utilization and health insurance trends to track how many people are using the benefit for substance abuse or use.
  • Find and promote local treatment centers that are in network with your company’s insurance. Al-Anon and  Nar-Anon provide support to family members. Add all of these resources and information to an easily accessible spot for employees- your company’s intranet, HR portal, newsletter, break rooms, and HR office.
  • Offer employees in-house training on new methods of dealing with overdose emergencies should they need it. Naloxone (also known as NARCAN®, EVZIO®) is a prescription medication that, in an emergency, can safely and effectively reverse an opioid overdose. The success and use of Naloxone has been compared to being prepared with automated external defibrillator for use in emergencies.
  • Provide coaching to your supervisors on how to better support their employees in crisis and engage them in conversation, so they direct them to the appropriate resources.
  • If an employee shares that they are or have a dependant that is struggling with opioid use,  provide them with a point person in your organization and/or with your health insurance carrier that can help them navigate their benefits for treatment options.
  • If the employee’s family member is not covered by health insurance, assist the employee with locating sliding scale resources or other low cost treatment options.

What can your EAP do?

An effective Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers support to both the person suffering with addiction and their family. Addiction is a disease out of the individual’s control; counseling and support from an EAP gives the family members an opportunity to regain some of that control.

Addiction Support Services Should Include:

  • 24/7 telephonic support and assessment with a master’s level clinician. It is important to strike while the iron is hot when an individual with an addiction is ready to access treatment.
  • A dedicated Care Coordinator to follow each case from initial phone call through case closing for a personalized, high-touch process often leading to swift resolution.
  • Free and confidential, short-term problem-solving counseling sessions for the covered employee and any household members. For the family, the EAP should be there to provide resources, education, and ongoing support. Unfortunately, not everyone wants help with their addiction and relapses are to be expected…so imagine what that means for the family and your employee?
  • One-on-one education on the dangers of substance use, the concept of harm reduction, triggers, how to access treatment, and what to expect during treatment. For someone struggling with addiction, the goal of the EAP is to get them into an appropriate level of care.
  • Treatment monitoring and aftercare support. The recovery process is a lifetime battle of triggers and temptations- it is imperative to have resources in place.
  • A range of services from financial counseling and legal assistance to self-care recommendations to assist an employee dealing with a loved one’s addiction.
  • A confidential performance consultation line that is able to provide telephonic support for supervisors and managers with an affected employee.

Your EAP is good for people and good for business.

While the number of people suffering from addiction is steadily climbing, the peripheral victims of this disease are growing even greater in number. Yet, these victims of the disease remain largely invisible from view.

Proactively providing resources to employees and starting the conversation in the workplace helps to reduce the stigma that comes with opioid addictions- and hopefully, brings those that are struggling in your workplace out of the shadows.

Just the existence of an EAP program shows that you care about your employees and their families, and can provide long-term benefits to your organization, including assisting with retention and recruitment, reducing the negative impact on your bottom line and work performance, and reducing unnecessary health insurance claims.

Is your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) able to meet these needs? For more help or a deeper conversation, get in touch.

Post Written by

Director, Customer Solutions

Beth is licensed by the State of Maryland as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Certified Professional, certified in Critical Incident Stress Management and specialty trained in EAP Critical Incident Response – Resiliency Approach. Additionally, she is a member of the national Employee Assistance Professionals Association and the Chesapeake Chapter.